I saw a post on Facebook a few months ago for the Grim Challenge series, sent by a friend of mine who wanted to get into mud and obstacle running. After answering a few general questions on these sorts of runs, I decided to keep this on the back-burner as a possible short run to warm down after the Spartan Beast which was only two weeks before it.
As it transpired, the friend was unable to do the run so I asked around a few people who were also trying to get into these runs. As it was only an 8 mile run I thought it would be ideal for people looking to start out. Turns out the person I was due to run with had to pull out last minute, so in the end I decided to run it on my own and treat it as a fun wind-down to the end of a long season of mud runs.
After finishing the race I only have one word to describe it- Exceptional!
The race was amazing from start to finish, and not just the course. Of all the races I have joined this year this was the best organised, with the best atmosphere and without a doubt the best value for money.
Firstly, the welcome pack. I received a fully glossy race pack with lots of information, my race number, timing chip and information on future events. All other races have just provided an email, often missing some pretty vital information. In the case of the Spartan series, I often didn't even receive the email and had to chase them!
Next was the general organisation. I know that it was on a military camp, but you got the impression that it was being run as a military operation (maybe it was!). There were signs guiding us in from as far away as the M3. Again, with other races there has been confusion as to the correct sat nav postcode, or no signs until you are actually at the entrance to some small farm in the middle of no-where. This sat very well with The Wife, aka The support crew, who I always burden with being the navigator, and if she likes a race it makes it far easier for me to justify going to another in the series :-) Bravo Grim Challenge, bravo.
The entrance to the race was easy to find with good parking facilities and helpful marshals A short walk from the car park got us towards the start line where there were plenty of toilets, including the male only urinal port-a-loos which are great in avoiding queues for us gents. As we already had race numbers and timing chips there was no rush once we were there. You could simply soak up the atmosphere, which was really nice. Again, it's the little things which make all the difference.
As I wasn't too fussed about my time for this race, I didn't worry about joining the start line too early and ended up about halfway through the queue to start. The temperature was hovering just above freezing and I was still trying to decide whether to run topless or use my Under Armour heat gear top. In the end, I decided to test myself against the elements properly and take off my top just before the start. With the GoPro set, I was ready to run.
The run was itself was great and the atmosphere superb. As I was doing a gentle pace I had chance to talk to people as I was running, and everyone was having a great time. I got a few funny looks when breaking ice wearing not very much, but that's all part of the fun of it for me.
I coped pretty well after mile 3. Between miles 1.5 and 3 I started to get very, very cold to the point where for the first time ever I was starting to wonder if I could get through it. My severe lack of prep meant that I was burning off my morning breakfast pretty quickly and I wasn't battling the cold as easily as I normally do. I started losing feeling in my left thumb completely to the point where I had to run holding it in my other hand. For whatever reason, my temperature stabilised by mile 3 and I was able to properly enjoy the rest of the race.
There were very few obstacles as such, only a few cargo nets and some logs to run over. The mud and water were considered the main obstacles, with people choosing how thick and deep they wanted to go through them. This seemed great, especially for those starting out. I hit full force to begin with, ducking out only between miles 1.5 and 3 as I tried to warm up. I didn't avoid altogether, but chose on some to exit puddles before the very end until I got warm again. Later on in the race when the track opened very wide many chose, as I did, to aim for puddles and mud not directly in the way. Great fun.
Towards the end, still sporting my ridiculous Movember 'tash
That brings me on to another great feature of the course- the width. There were no points whatsoever that forced you to run at single file so you were never stopped by other people's pace. Take note Spartan and Tough Mudder!!!
The marshals throughout were also great, offering encouragement, telling you about dangerous ice, guiding you in the correct direction and generally paying attention to what was being done. This was coupled with visible off-road Ambulance presence throughout the course to give the overall impression that the organisers cared about the runner as much as they did about taking your money. A really nice change!
My wife commented that the information for spectators was also great, with plenty of room to let my son run around and get muddy himself whilst they waited for me at some of the obstacles. the only thing missing that would have been nice would be a spectators map showing good photo spots, but the marshals again were very helpful I'm told in pointing out the good spots. She managed to get this footage of me running through one of the lakes:
After 8 miles or mud soaked fun, I reached the finish line and despite taking it pretty causally, still came in the top 100, which I was pretty pleased with. When you crossed the line, the announcer called out your name as well, a really nice touch. I picked up my race bag which had a decent quality cotton tee. Ok, it wasn't a technical or branded tee, but all things considered not too shabby. There were also some free samples of snacks so it was easy to get a bit of food immediately (Though I admit I headed straight for the burger van ;-) )
After the race times were announced very quickly and photos placed up pretty quickly. The Grim Challenge Facebook page also had the courtesy to repost links to mine and another runner's GoPro footage. This helps with the views and ads on our own pages which in turns helps to pay for the recording equipment and promote things like this little blog. Little things like this make a big difference to those of us that have these races as our main sport and hobby.
I can honestly say that after the huge disappointment that was the Spartan Beast, this was a refreshing change for all the right reasons. For the very low £30 entry fee, this was the mud/obstacle run bargain of the century and I can do nothing but sing its praises. I seriously hope that the "Big three" race organisers in the UK had reps running this race and took something away from it. A lot of lessons to be learnt and a massive round of applause needed for the organisers of Grim Challenge.
I almost forgot to give a quick update on the Liquid Grip product in the race after my earlier review!
I used it twice- Once before the monkey bars and once before the final wall. The grip was simply amazing. Even though the ropes and bars weren't wet or greased as they have been previously, I could fly up and across both obstacles with ease. Not necessarily faster, but with less effort.
I need to practice getting the Liquid Grip on to my hands whilst running with more efficiency, but I'll get there. In the meantime I can confirm that this product is great for obstacle running! :-)
Well I finally got my time through for the Beast, but for reasons that I won't go into once again, I'm not sure how relevant it is.
In the end I got a 01:52:20 which placed me 9th. Normally I'd be pleased with this as I really wanted a top 10 time, but with the amount of problems with this race, I'm not even going to count it. The best thing I got out of this race was my Trifecta medal and a test of my pain threshold.
Oh, and one last thing whilst I'm here: A friend of mine who ran the Beast in a later heat did take his GoPro and got a lot of the footage from the race. I thought the least I could do was post a link up for him!
Well this was it, the big one. This was the race that I've been looking forward to ever since tackling Tough Mudder in May. After the recent Spartan series races that I have completed, I was very excited that finally the time had come to take on the biggest Spartan Race in the UK, the Beast.
Billed as a 25km, 50+ obstacle onslaught, I was ready to shed blood, sweat and tears getting through this challenge.
The first impression unfortunately was a little off, as I didn't receive my normal confirmation email a few days beforehand with the waiver form and confirmation of the directions. I emailed the UK Spartan team in the end for confirmation as many people on the Spartan Facebook page said that the address provided on the website differed to that in the confirmation email. As always the lovely Jess from Spartan sorted my issues out pretty quickly.
Race day was upon me- An early start of 6am to get the family up and in the car to start the ~2 hour journey to Brands Hatch. The best thing about driving that early on a Sunday morning was that the roads were pretty quiet, so we made good time to the venue and parked up pretty promptly.
The air was pretty cold out of the sun, with think frost covering the ground anywhere the sun hadn't hit. Luckily once in the sun, it was actually a warm enough air temp for a nice run without the need for a shirt. That said, I did keep my top on until the beginning of the race, just in case :-)
There was no queue for registration but, as a season pass holder, I had to visit a second tent to have my timing chip entered. I thought this was strange as surely they should have my details- I have run twice on this number with them in the past year. Unfortunately the tent was empty and no-one knew where the people were. 5 minutes later and I was stuck behind a queue of 30 odd people all in the same boat.
With the timing chip sorted, I handed my shirt to the wife on the start line and after the normal Spartan speech (which we could barely hear!), we all set off. Mostly we were quite surprised that the first section of the race was a lap of Brands Hatch circuit. There were some barriers to jump over, 2 in total, but otherwise this was a road run. For those of us in extreme trail running shoes, this was more than slightly painful! It was a welcome relief that after approx 2 miles, we headed off the Tarmac...
A few more twisting sections on grass which involved running inside the track the wrong way round brought us into the woods in the centre of the circuit.
We soon reached several areas that simply hadn't been marked properly. There were either 5 different ways all of which had tape on them, or no tape whatsoever to follow. A large group of us followed the tape into the woods and completed a sandbag lift, cargo net and rope climb before being told that we should have been coming from the other direction. The initial marshals didn't mention this, too busy playing on their phones to care :-(
After losing another 30 seconds listening to more marshals try to decide where we should be running, we we sent back onto another track where we met more runners. I would like to say this was an isolated incident, but there we six separate occasions where we got completely lost due to lack of markings.
The marshals were simply awful. They weren't about where needed, doubled up on some places where they were not needed and either chatting or playing on their phones rather than giving encouragement to the racers or looking to be pro-actively helpful. This was such a huge change from every other Spartan Race that I had been to where the races have been so well staffed.
We ran through several more obstacles, 2 sets in total of the cargo climb, rope climb and sandbag lift- not exactly what you'd call imaginative. The worst part of it though was the running through brambles and holly hedges. Sure they hurt a bit and cut my body up, but that doesn't bother me. It felt like miles of doing this and as most of the time they surrounded us, it forced people to move single file which therefore forced queuing. YOU CANNOT HOLD A TIMED RACE WHERE YOU FORCE PEOPLE TO MOVE SINGLE FILE!!!! It simply doesn't work, at all. If you can't overtake, you're forced to run at the pace of the slowest person and as there are no qualifications needed even for the elite heat, you can get some very slow people in there.
This bored everyone who was around me. As we were down to walking pace, we had a good chance to chat and share war stories!
We progressed though the wooded section with a fire jump, some spiders' nests and a few obstacles suspended about 3 feet above the ground but nothing particularly innovative. There was also a brick hold for 50 seconds at arms length. Completely unregulated so people ran off whenever they felt like. The marshal there was simply awful, not telling us which way to run and again, three groups or people went in three separate directions. Not cool.
Final gripe (for now) was that as well as people getting lost, some groups just after this obstacle seemed to be purposely cutting the course. Not strictly running through tape, as there wasn't any, but not exactly playing by the rules or spirit of the runs either. This obviously isn't the fault of the organisers, but sad nonetheless.
We eventually made it out of the woods and on a run back up to where we started. After getting back on grass and a bit more running, we had some monkey bars to complete and two flips of a tyre. In reality the monkey bars were way too easy, cleared in 4 swings and 2 flips of a tyre isn't exactly challenging but enough for the volume of people that were running through. The monkey bars weren't thick, wet or greased- Three things that could have made it a tougher obstacle.
A quick loop around and we hit three farmers-walk style obstacles- 2 x ammo cases (I estimated 15kg each, the marshal didn't know!), a single car tyre run and a sandbag run (approx 30kg). I used these as time to catch my breath a bit and store some energy. After leaving these we hit balance beams and then started a crawl under cammo netting which went on seemingly forever, must have been at least 150m. I didn't even know you could get cammo netting that long! You could argue that it got tough on the knees, but really most of it you could stand and run as the netting was very loose. Not tough, just irritating.
Further up the hill we hit the seemingly impossible spear throw which this time had to hit a hay bale, and stick in. Previous races you simply had to hit the target. Suffice to say whist I was there, everyone was doing 30 burpees :-) After another jog we then had a hay crawl and then a new one (hurrah!)... 50 pull downs on vertically mounted Concept 2 rowers. Not bad actually, quite tiring and marshals there checking people were doing it right! Bravo!
We then moved on to the final 3 obstacles- ice crawl, pretty standard with no electrocution :-(, wall climb and the Gladiators. Well, Gladiator. The wall was different to the normal one- higher but the ropes seemed to be suspended differently. The tough part of the normal wall is that the rope stays very close to the peak when you get to the top.
I crossed the line not particularly tired and not feeling like I had run 25k. I went to pick up my Trifecta medal, only to find that I wasn't on the list for it. I argued my case giving details of the races I had completed and I was allowed both the Beast and Trifecta medals. I don't understand why this was missing from the system though.
My timing chip had been lost in the brambles, so I was given a line cross time of 1:52:20. Pretty fast for 25km... We later found out that several people GPS'd the run and had it down as 11 miles. No wonder that time seemed fast!
Then after scaring some people who were about the start with the blood pouring out of my legs, the final obstacle was in fact finding the showers. We were told about them on the start line but not a single member of Spartan Race staff that either my wife or I talked to could tell us where they were. We eventually tracked them down through word of mouth. It turns out some A4-size signs were what we were looking for!!!!
In conclusion I'm afraid to say it was a disappointment. The few things that they got right were vastly overshadowed by all of the bad points and poor administration. As I'm writing this, I'm currently looking at the Spartan Facebook page full of similar complaints. I have also emailed the UK team asking for a point of contact to give direct feedback to.
The most annoying thing is that these guys can organise really compelling, interesting races with innovative obstacles- The Sprint and Super that I completed earlier in the year was amazing. This just wasn't one of them. The general impression was that the course was thought up the night before over a beer. I will continue to support and run their races in 2013 under a season pass but I fear that they have severely damaged their brand name, due to this race.
Roll on the 2013 season and my next Trifecta :-)
Well the prep is all done. Sunday 18th @ 1000 I'll be setting off in the elite heat of the UK London Spartan Beast. I must admit, I'm feeling great but I am concerned about my cardio, or lack thereof. It's been really tricky recently to get solid training in. The Wife and Oscar have both been very ill recently, which has limited the time I've been able to spend training.
The worst part has been running- I've been unable to get in more than about 40 minutes running at a time, enough to get in 10k at most. I've tried to combat this with as many hill sprints and skip sessions using the Training Mask as possible which has been killing my lungs. I've also tried putting my legs through as much training as possible that will simulate what I'll be doing. Plenty of lunging, squatting and crawling.
Finally the normal sled drags, tyre flips and bodyweight stuff.
I'm feeling great, but over 12 miles at full pace and all those obstacles.... Well bring them on!
I was sat at work the other day, pondering a few things about the Spartan Races that I've done so far this year. The main thing that hit me was how slow I was up the ropes at the end of the courses. These were the ropes soaked in mud and water up the "Wall" obstacles. You need to pull yourself up the 45 degree slope via the ropes, and with the slope being covered in plastic and soaked, all of the effort needs to come through the rope.
The problem is that because the ropes are soaking wet, you have to clench your grip very tightly which not only tires your arms out but makes you spend longer securing each grip. In addition, your hands naturally start sliding down the rope even once you have grip.
So, I was (very) bored at work one day and my mind started wandering onto the subject of what I could do to help with this. I remember hearing a friend of mine at the local supplements specialist who competes in and organises strongman competitions raving about a new product called Liquid Grip. Liquid Grip is designed to be a modern alternative to chalk used in weightlifting and strongman competitions to achieve greater grip. So would it work for me legging it around assault courses covered in thick mud and water?
I put in a call and bought a small tub to try it out. I used this opportunity to have a pop at my first video review of the product. I must apologise for the poor quality of the audio- I'm currently sourcing a microphone for my GoPro for doing these in the future :-)
In short, it was amazing. Even with a soaking rope the Liquid Grip help me keep a very tight grip with the same effort as if the rope was dry. As my hands didn't slip, I was able to climb the rope in my garden with ease. I also did a short test on holding up a soaking sandbag- Again a common obstacle on the Spartan Races. Once again, the Liquid Grip held up really well.
As it came with a carabiner, was small and in an easily squeezed tub, I figured it'd be perfect for a run. So, based on my short test I took the decision to attach it to my shorts for the upcoming Beast. More news to follow after the race!
A bit about pain. This post may single me out as a bit of a weirdo, but I'm not worried, I'm totally cool with that.
I like pain. There you go I said it. I'm not talking about in some sort of sexual, kinky way, but I like pain when training and competing. Whether the sting from a punch inside the cage or the feel of stones slicing through my skin when crawling under some barbed wire, there's something about the sharp feel of pain that gives me focus and drive.
I've discussed this with others, the last time with Simon on a training run before Tough Guy. He had a large blister and suffers from them badly and it was causing pain to run. For me, that is exactly the sort of thing that keeps me going. The pain of something like that doesn't make me want to stop, it makes me want to keep going. I find it motivating. Sharp shocks are the best- The electrocution obstacles that I've encountered do not make me want to stop or turn back, but instead I feel it right up my spine, I get goosebumps instantly and most importantly, a massive grin. It might sound strange, but I feel like Super Mario with a mushroom- It helps me run faster, lift heavier and fight longer.
People tend to fear pain, but I don't see why. I use pain, take the pain, push it into the pit of my stomach and give it pain back. The pain is trying to stop me, just like any other type of opponent. It's either going to to win or I am, and I'm not one to back down easily.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that pain should be ignored. It's obviously the body's way of alerting that something isn't right, but if that something is you achieving your physical goals, it should not be there to stop you but more as a flag that you are doing something right.
Last night The Wife and I signed up for Tough Mudder in 2013. Northampton, 5th May. We're in as a team of 8 so far but it'll likely be closer to 12 I would have thought.
Quite excited. For most of the people running with us, it will be a first obstacle run. The Wife has just signed up with the local CrossFit club that opened a few months ago, Sarum CrossFit. This will be the basis for her training, interspersed with some running. She won't let me train her, we've already been down that road :-)
As for me, it'll be business as usual :-) Stayed tuned for more updates as we go along!
Four of us signed up for the first of a series of new events from Tough Guy, the founders of the obstacle run. Traditionally only run once a year, Tough Guy appear to be adding new events each year which I assume is to cash in on the growing market for obstacle runs bought on by the heavy promotion of Tough Mudder and Spartan Races.
The 14th October saw the first "Tough Guy Triathlon" consisting of a 400m swim, 12k mountain bike ride and a 10k Tough Guy "Mud Thrash" run. Two of the guys in the team, Mark and Simon, had never run an obstacle race before and as you could chose just to do the 10k run, the timing of this event was perfect. Paul joined us who is a veteran of the main Tough Guy run and so we had a team for the event.
We turned up just before 9am, to a very foggy morning and a -1 degree centigrade air temp. With the run due to start at about 11ish, I was starting to wonder if my tradition of running topless was going to remain a good idea!
The Tough Guy venue is a permanent set-up so facilities were great. The thought of a nice hot shower at the end of the race rather than bathing in a lake sounded fantastic! There were also lots of toilets which were pretty clean and well kept, again a nice change from the porta-loo setup at most of these runs.
Registration was a simple process- hand over our waiver and we were given timing chips, race number and a goody bag straight away. As this was the first event, there were not many participants. Across all events there didn't look to be more than 100 people. Most of these left with the triathlon, then another large portion with the "Screwball" kids race, leaving about 40 of us on the 10k only run. Whilst the atmosphere therefore left a bit to be desired it did mean that there were no queues at the obstacles when the race did begin...
The race was due to start when the first of the triathletes had finished the swim and cycle, and them crossing the start line of the run signalled us to begin as well. Unfortunately this meant that we didn't really know when we were going to start, only that it would be around 11ish.
The race itself started with some pretty basic log jumps and a decent stretch of trail running across fields, small hills and a wooded section. We then moved into a wood with cargo nets and log pyramids into another field run. From there on there were very few open runs but a lot of intensive obstacle sections. Lots of river running and yet more cargo nets. I personally would have liked to see less cargo nets and a bit more imagination. Cargo nets are fine but they aren't difficult to traverse and they got a bit dull after a while. The river running went on for quite a while and got quite exhausting. This was good- too many of these runs allow you so much recovery time between obstacles that you barely notice them but the more relentless nature of this run shone through.
After the water came some high log and net climbs, with electric cables in-between which unfortunately weren't turned on :-( This sucked, as the electric obstacles are something that you don't get to do that often so a real missed opportunity there. At this point our team split with Simon and Paul keeping up a higher pace, and Mark and me taking it more easy.
Next came more log jumps and bog running before moving on to a large assault course over one of the lakes. A combination of short rope swings, overhead rope shimmying and cargo nets to climb over or swing from got us around a figure-of-eight circuit before heading to a low crawl under barbed wire. Unlike the Tough Mudder event, there was no safety wire here, just the real thing. If you don't go low enough, you get cut, it's that simple!
We then moved on to a high section of tight-rope walking. These were fine and as there were no queues, these were cleared quite quickly. Next we went into plunges into deep water followed by sections of burning hay. This meant you went from very hot to very cold time and time again, finally having to crawl through a small tyre tunnel. I'm told that Simon had quite an ungraceful exit from the tyre due to the last one coming apart. Luckily one of the WAGs got some photo evidence of this... :-)
Next came some dark tunnels to crawl through. These were concrete and it was pitch black. Really couldn't see a thing! The last section of tubes were even smaller than the first and although I'm quite small framed I struggled to make it through. For the very last section I switched to a more elongated crawling technique in order to make it through.
With Mark and I both out we move to a very high tight rope section over a small section of water, then onto "Viagra"- a slide down the side of a hill with electric cables dangling down. These were definitely turned on! Shocks all the way down and it was after a water section to make it conduct nicely!
With that done it was over, all 10k done! It was an interesting and fun event. The intensity of the obstacles, even if some of them were repeated to death, meant that it didn't feel like 10k at all. I would highly recommend this for anyone worried about the distance side of a 10k run or as a good warm up if you are thinking of doing the full Tough Guy in January.
Was it tough? For me, at this pace, no. If I was running it at full pace and going for the best possible time it would be a good test, but I'm still not sure about tough. More electrics and more, thicker mud sections to really drain your energy are needed. I survived this with far fewer cuts and bruises than the similar distance Spartan races. As this was the very first time it was being run though this can all be forgiven. For the price, the distance and the facilities given, this was a top event.
The full video taken on my GoPro HD Hero2 can be seen here:
I've been using the Inov-8 X-Talon 212s for 6 months now as a trail running show for use in training across Salisbury Plain and as my race shoe for both Tough Mudder and Spartan series races. After researching before Tough Mudder in May 2012, I found several blogs and reviews from people who had run it before recommending either Inov-8s or Vibrams. When looking at the course structure, I decided to go for the X-Talon 212s as they seemed to have far superior grip and the majority of running would be through thick mud or wet grass fields.
I have been blown away at how good these shoes are off-road. The rubber grips are very sticky which is perfect for running on wet wood surfaces which you regularly have to in these races and during all of my training and races I have not slipped once in them. Even when running down wet, muddy hills racing in Spartan races and through the mile of mud at Tough Mudder, I was able to stay stable, fast and agile whilst others around me looked like Bambi on Ice!
They are very lightweight which helps not only with manoeuvrability but also by drying out very quickly after being soaked. They are also comfortable to swim in when traversing lakes and rivers- My old Asics would feel like bricks once they were soaked. The laces have rubber in them which helps them keep grip and they very rarely come undone. After 6 months of use they are still in very good condition with no rips, tears or marks. I've thrown them in the washing machine several times and each time they've come out looking like new.
These are minimalist shoes, so if you're not used to running in a minimalist shoe you should take precautions to both bed them and your feet in correctly. Using a traditional running technique that you would use with cushioned trainers can result in some pretty nasty injuries. There is loads of advice about this on the Internet and through your doctor- I found this link particularly useful. As with everything on this blog I'm no expert, I'm just listing what I did. Take professional advice if you feel you need it!
The only negative is that they are awful on hard surfaces- even chalk or flint. If it's not soft ground, you really feel it through your feet. They're not designed for hard surfaces, so this shouldn't be a surprise. They also aren't very handy on the balance beam obstacles that you sometimes get, due to how high the rubber studs are as they can send you off balance easily.
All in all, they have been fantastic.